Thursday, November 29, 2012

Field School: November 29

Today had such a different feel to it; it felt as though everyone has just gotten into the rhythm and culture of Crow's Path! It felt beautiful, something akin to what I've heard called the village hum. Everyone just showed up this morning as their full selves, free to follow their own curiosity and passions.

We started with another fire challenge. This one was a 5-minute fire. The kids were so close to starting a fire in the time limit with a single match. Once they took a break and rethought their strategy they got a blazing fire going in the next 5 minutes. They worked together so well gather fire wood and get the fire set. Afterwards we were going to split into guilds, but the kids initiated all of these wonderful projects on their own so we just followed their lead.

Gavin worked on "carving" a knife by burning the edges then grinding of the charred parts.

Cody made a walking stick, then finished it by smoothing it out with sand paper. I then showed him how to burnish the wood using a glass jar. Burnishing works best on harder woods, and when applied leaves a wonderfully smooth and polished surface. It does this in two ways. First, burnishing rubs off any of the softer cellular material sanding didn't get rid of, leaving harder cellulose fibers. Second, burnishing collapses and compresses these harder fibers and, when heated, the pores seal up. Next week we'll be stitching a leather handle on!

Sam battled Luke and Austin in an epic game of Stay-on-the-log. Sam won.

Ryder and Emmett took over a construction project to build a "scout pit."

Luke, camouflaged as always, was attempting to stalk up on another group. If I hadn't seen his hat, I would have missed him!

Miles has been totally hooked by fungi the past few weeks. Sam (our UVM intern) brought in a field guide to mushrooms. After identifying the birch polypore, Miles worked on turning a couple of them into glasses. Above he was carving out the eyehole on one of the rims.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Field School: November 15

Winter! What a perfect time of year to sit around a fire and share stories. Over the past couple of weeks Lauren's been putting in lots of hours practicing fire-by-friction. Last week she borrowed one of my sets (aspen spindle, basswood fireboard) and plugged away for a good 20 minutes while the kids sang songs to support her. She didn't wind up getting a coal that week, but spent the week practicing and getting her own kit ready. She modeled some wonderful patience and commitment and this week got a coal in about a minute. It was beautiful to watch. Above is a photo of Lauren blowing on the tinder bundle until it went up in flames.

Lauren, Chris, and I talked about our anticipated theme for the day and we wanted to focus on the energy of Autumn. The kids talked about this as a time for celebrating the harvest, eating good food, enjoying the changes in weather. We found quite a bit of animal sign on the land today, including a crow carcass. Sam, Tanner, and Lauren pieced together the story from the few remains (missing skull, but lots of vertebrae and feathers!). Looked like it may have been nabbed by an owl (barred owls are the biggest threat to crows, and we've got a pair of barred owls around our camp) and scavenged by a fox.

We followed that find up with a nice pile of red fox scat right in the center of one of our bridges. That's the 3rd time we've seen red fox scat on our bridges (foxes love to poop in the open to mark out their territory). Red fox scat also smells pretty bad. Everyone is making their "ewww, red fox scat" face (Cody, in the center, won the contest).

We ended the day by giving thanks to the birds that share their home with us one day a week. We first split into three groups and went for some long wanders. My group found an old hemlock tree that had come down. The inside was rotted out, making it the perfect size fit for a 9-year-old. Eventually we collected some pine cones to make pine cone bird feeders. A simple recipe of: 1) pine cone, 2) peanut butter, 3) bird seed. We then strung them up around at our sit spots.

We wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving and we look forward to seeing you all in two short weeks!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Field School: November 8

Yesterday was cold, but we hardly noticed. The soggy ground in the alder swamp creaked and cracked as we walked over the new boardwalk our UVM interns created.

Ally, one of our Big Picture interns, took photos for us today.Once in camp we played a good game of "Stay on the log" to warm us up. Here Luke's trying to roll Sam and me off the log.

A hot fire burning hardwood logs makes for some great coals
Lauren, Matt, and Sam harvest some of the ash we felled last week
 Lauren worked on coal burning with Matt & Sam. Here they're cutting a section of white ash. They then split the log in half the long way and put hot coals on the cut surface. By blowing on the bottom of the coal, the coal transfers to the wood. By continually blowing (or holding the cup/bowl up to the wind) the wood will slowly burn (without flames) the wood down. It's a slow meditative process, perfect for cold days.

At the end of the day we made some "birds nests" as a treat. Birds nests are easy to make and fantastic to eat! We slowly melted chocolate on soapstone that we had heated up in the fire, then added a bunch of crushed up shredded wheat. While it was still hot we scooped out spoonfuls and shaped them into little nests. We topped them off with yogurt covered raisins inside the nests to look like eggs. They were absolutely delicious!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

November 1 (Rabbit Rabbit)

So the answer to the mystery from last week is an opossum (our only native north american pouched friend) and a regular old domestic house cat.

 Our biggest smiles
What a remarkable difference the storm has made out at our camp. The wind seemed to take all of the leaves from the trees and the woods are about as naked as they'll be all year.

Seth and Lauren skinning the raccoon
Lauren found a road killed raccoon outside her door a few weeks ago so she, Chris, and Seth worked on skinning that today, with a lot of other folks jumping in to join them. For me, the process is always a mix of fascination and discomfort and respect for the amazing complexity of the animal.

Emmett with a keen eye for perfection
Poor Emmett's been reminding me for 3-weeks to bring gourds to Crow's Path. I finally remembered this week and we got to start the process of learning how to make bowls from gourds. Gourds, though entirely inedible, are thought to be the oldest cultivated plant in the world. Because of their thick, waterproof shells, they're perfect as bowls, canteens, containers, and cooking pots (we boiled water today by heating up soapstone in the fire and putting it into a bowl that had water in it).

 Emmett and SBHS Big Picture intern Ally working on bowls
 The process for making a bowl using a gourd is pretty straight forward.

1. Cut off the top part (this is where the stem is; the stem is porous and will leak unless sealed).
2. Clean out the insides. You can either dry scrape out the guts of the gourd (much like scraping a pumpkin clean) or soak it in water and then scrape out the guts. We used our fingernails, spoons, and hooknives to clean the insides.
3. Once it's mostly cleaned you can sand off the rest to make the inside smooth.
4. Since the gourd is inedible it gives food a bitter taste. To finish the bowl, I fill the bowl with boiling water, let it soak about 5 minutes, then dump the water out. I repeat this process until the water doesn't taste bitter (or is just slightly bitter).
5. Some people coat the inside with beeswax or another food safe finish. And that's it!

Sam proudly displaying future banjos
Sam is one of our interns from UVM. He's a fantastic musician and naturalist. Today he found a way to pursue both interests by cutting his gourd in half the opposite way to make a banjo-like instrument.

We've had a group from UVM's capstone course for seniors in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources (RSENR) - NR 206 Environmental Problem Solving - working with us this semester. They redid the boardwalks through the alder swamp, built us a track box, and are working on an entrance shelter. At the end of the day we watched them chainsaw down a big white birch tree - after felling the tree we scoured it clean of birch bark for starting fires in the morning.

Fire challenge
The UVM students then helped us with a fire challenge. We set up a string about a foot and a half off the ground that the groups had to burn through by building up a fire. They started with a lit piece of birch bark. Their diligence was rewarded after about 10 minutes of retooling and reworking their strategies (it's a young group and they've got lots of practice ahead of them to really master fire building). Once the first group burned their string it was an exciting rush for the next group to get through another section. Anjay, Leo, and Tanner were particularly excited about this challenge!

And lots of gratitude to Magnus for closing our circle today with a beautiful story of his experience this summer getting to spend a few minutes watching a pair of red foxes in a moss-covered hollow.